nature tables and altars

when i was a little girl, i loved setting up a special little place in my bedroom where i carefully arranged all of my treasures (usually magical stones!) and twigs and leaves i would gather from the yard. at the time, i didn’t call this a “nature table” or an “altar” but essentially, that’s what i was making.

creating sacred space has always been a particular passion of mine, so creating a meaningful altar feels soul-fulfilling for me. an altar is a surface (usually elevated in some way) containing objects of significance and a place to engage in whatever sort of spiritual practice fits for you.

personal altar. autumn 2008

a nature table is a place where the seasons can be observed and honored. for those of us for whom season and earth intersect with our spiritual practice, these can often look similar.

as an art therapist educated at a buddhist-oriented school, who appreciates art as ritual, and has a “buddhish” husband, we keep altars for meditation in our home.

summer 2005, in our meditation room

as ellen dissanyake speaks about, art is about “making special.” she says “this aesthetic ability.. enabled us to ‘bracket off’ the things and activities that were important to our survival, separate them from the mundane, and make them special. we took the objects and practices involved in marriage, birth, death, food production, war and peacemaking and enhanced them to make them more attractive and pleasurable, more intriguing and more memorable. we invented dance, poetry, charms, spells, masks, dress and a multitude of other artifacts to make these associated activities, whether hauling nets or pounding grain, more sensual and enjoyable, to promote cooperation, harmony and unity among group members, and to also enable us to cope with life’s less expected or explicable events.” i feel like altars and nature tables are one very concrete expression of this idea of art as meaning-making or ritual.

altar i created out of scrap wood & fan blades as an art therapy & spirituality project in grad school at naropa, 2004.

in my art therapy practice, i often have something of a nature table going, usually incorporating art materials to invite my clients into the experience of the creative process.

setting in my office circa 2004

when i facilitate an art process or art therapy group, i usually create a sort of altar-like space in the center of the circle. it includes natural objects and the art materials being offered that day.

self-care art therapy group for new moms - fall 2011

my family often creates small birth altars in our home when a close friend is in labor, bringing a baby into the world… keeping a candle lit throughout the birth to send love and light their way. (by the way, i often use my own art on my nature tables, as well as lovely inspiring prints and often these amazing soul cards.)

birth altar for a dear friend. july 2007.

i’ve blogged about how some of my art therapy mentors created these fabulous portable altars in matchboxes.

matchbox altar made for me by my art therapy mentors. spring 2005.

now, as a waldorf momma, ideas about the nature table have been brought from the classroom and into our home through my little N.

nature table set up completely by N - january 2012

i am inspired by so many beautiful nature tables i see around the blogosphere. i am so fond of the seasonal beauty mary beth of salt & chocolate brings into her home. she has an amazing nature table photo set on flickr. there’s also a nice waldorf-inspired group on flickr called “the nature table” with many beautiful images.

spring nature table, 2010

do you keep a nature table or altar? as you can see, they come in various shapes and sizes. they can live at home or at work, be made with your children or alone, small-scale or large, seasonal or not. i would love to see how you express yourselves in this way, so i’ve set up a pinterest board for this purpose. if you’d like to share your altar or nature table, post the link to your blog entry, image, or pin of your table in the comment section of this post. (and i’ll repin it on my board!) let’s inspire each other!


bowl of natural materials for art



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  • Jen,
    I love your thoughts about nature, earth and their intersection with spirituality. I totally resonate with these ideas. And. your pictures are so soothing. I can feel the vibes….

    I LOVE setting up nature tables and have been doing this since I was a little girl, too. Then, I didn’t know what to call them. I would often place a ‘krishna’ statuette in my nature collection table or shelf.

    I continue to this day and now I do with my daughter who’s 6.

    We have a nature corner that I call spiritual garden. Along with our finds from nature, I also place a Buddha and a Ganesha here – not out of religious significance but purely spiritual.

    You can see some the pics here in the links below. I keep changing this from season to season.

    You know what – we also follow Waldorf in our homeschool. And incidentally, my today’s post is about conducting nature study!

    So many commonalities 🙂 Talk about synchronicities….!

  • This has been something on my TO DO list for a while. I’m just having a hard time figuring out the logistics. This post has given me a lot of inspiration. Thank you.

  • jen

    wonderful, kristin! thank you for your comment. i, too, have a hard time with the logistics… mostly because we have a cat who is incredibly curious and likes to knock things over to get our attention, and eats anything resembling a plant. this has made our nature tables a little more challenging, but i am still committed to it because it really feels like soulful expression in the home. i love that my daughter is now making them on her own, too. please share a pic of yours once you are inspired to create one! 🙂

  • Love this post! Here is a link to my post on a nature basket.

  • What a lovely post and very inspiring! We are starting to put our spring nature basket/table together at the moment but here’s a post about one from the past:

  • I do not know how to get my pics off my facebook timeline layout page to give them to you.I am not that technologically advanced but I did try. Love your altars! I have been making them my whole life and when I found Waldorf it was like I was finally coming home. I am a Waldorf teacher trained special ed teacher that lives in the regular world now. But it was fun wile my children were little. I Love honoring the seasons. I have a bunch of bulbs coming up in pots outside right now. -Erin

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